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Irish recruiting efforts coming into focus

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While the Irish coaching staff traverses the country taking in-home visits, Notre Dame’s staff is close to putting the finishing touches on a stellar recruiting class. The additional of Aliz’e Jones pushes the Irish into a consensus Top 10 class — quite an accomplishment considering this was supposed to be a smaller group.

Yet with two weeks to go, the Irish sit at 23 recruits. And most believe they’ll end things with at 25 signees, with the possibility of landing one more if things go according to plans.

From a need perspective, it looks as if the Irish will be filling one very large hole with Dexter Williams. The running back has been an early target of the Irish staff and took his official visit last weekend. A one-time Miami commitment, Williams very well could have been the intended target of a since-deleted Tweet by a Miami assistant that compared weather forecasts in both cities. (Most assumed it was linebacker Tevon Coney.)

Williams is far from a consolation prize. His offer list is elite, his highlight film looks the part and all signs (and Crystal Balls) seem to point to Notre Dame. So while the Irish staff will still likely continue their chase of Soso Jamabo, Notre Dame should have a second running back in this class when it comes time to turn on the fax machine.

At wide receiver, it appears that just about everybody following things thinks the Irish will land another one of their early targets at the position in Equanimeous St. Brown. If it does happen, the Orange County, California prospect will have turned down a Dos Equis commercial a slew of other elite schools to come to South Bend, giving Notre Dame another big-bodied, lanky receiver in the mold of Corey Robinson, with better speed.

St. Brown’s recruiting stock seems to have roller-coastered a bit this year, but Notre Dame’s interest never did. And at a position where early playing time doesn’t necessarily look possible, playing the long game on an athletic talent as unique as St. Brown (he’s 6’5″ and fast) seems to be a good bet. Add to that another player from powerhouse Servite, and it’s a win-win-win for the Irish staff… assuming the Irish hear from the 949 area code in a few Wednesdays.

When it comes to filling a final hole at safety, things get a little interesting. The Irish are chasing multiple athletes at the position still, a priority spot in a class that already includes three commits. But with smoke surrounding Prentice McKinney‘s status, filling this slot is important, especially with the uncertain future of Nicky Baratti.

The Irish entertained Nathan Meadors last weekend, with Notre Dame “pulling even” with UCLA. A San Bernadino native, the Bruins are essentially the hometown school. But the Irish staff believes he’s a great prospect and a player that the recruiting services seem to undervalue. Expect the in-home visit to be important with Brian Kelly.

That’s hardly the only bet the Irish are taking. They’re still fighting for an official visit from Arrington Farrar, a long-time Stanford commit that’s on the market again. Louisiana safety Justin Reid will be on campus this weekend. LSU (where his brother played) will get a late look as well, but Kerry Cooks is working the case.

The Irish staff is still hunting some big fish as well. They haven’t given up on Biggie Marshall, though it’s a long shot to happen. And they just used an in-home visit on defensive end Mekhi Brown, an Alabama commitment who took an official to South Bend during the season.

With two weeks to go, the final pieces seem to be coming together. But none of that matters until Signing Day.

 

 

DaVaris Daniels to enter NFL Draft

Taylor Richards, DaVaris Daniels
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Star-crossed Notre Dame wide receiver DaVaris Daniels‘ career with the Irish is over. After two seasons and two significant academic suspensions, Daniels decided to forgo any additional eligibility he has at the college level and turn professional.

Daniels is one of 74 players to officially declare early for the draft, joined by receivers Nelson Agholor, Amari Cooper, Stephon Diggs, George Farmer, Devin Funchess, Dorial Green-Beckham, Deontay Greenberry, Chris Harper, Breshad Perriman, Jaquel Pitts and Jaelen Strong.

(That list is filled with names Irish fans should know.)

Last we saw Daniels on the football field, he was the team’s second-leading receiver in 2013, scoring seven touchdowns and hauling in 49 passes for 745 yards in a redshirt sophomore season that was plagued by injury. But that season ended on a down note, with Daniels finding out he was academically ineligible from the university for the spring semester.

After sitting out last spring, head coach Brian Kelly still called Daniels the team’s No. 1 receiver, and expected big things from him as he returned for summer session. But Daniels never saw the field again, caught up in the academic dishonesty suspension that ended four players seasons and kept Eilar Hardy out for the majority of 2014.

Daniels weighed a return to college football — exploring options to return to Notre Dame and likely examining other schools as well. Sports Illustrated’s Brian Hamilton reports via Twitter that the additional semester suspension and grade adjustments for forfeited classes made eligibility for 2015 no sure thing.

Neither is Daniels’ draft stock. A physically gifted athlete, we’ve only seen a glimpse of that talent on the football field.

While a strong performance in a one-sided BCS title game as a redshirt freshman might count as his best game film (or a big night against Purdue in 2013), Daniels will need to be a workout warrior to find his way up draft boards.

Daniels has reportedly signed with agent Hadley Engelhard. Most expect him to be a late-round pick.

After being the lone player to remain vocal on social media throughout the lengthy suspension process during the season, Daniels took a philosophical approach to the news today, saying on Twitter, “There are no wrong turnings. Only paths we had not known we were meant to walk.”

Kelly hits the recruiting trail to bring back Stanley and Day

Notre Dame v Syracuse
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Say this for Brian Kelly. He learns from his mistakes.

And after losing Stephon Tuitt and Troy Niklas after just three seasons in South Bend, Notre Dame’s head coach made sure he had a final say before Ronnie Stanley and Sheldon Day made their stay-or-go decision.

Kelly hit the road over winter break to make sure his best two seniors understood how badly the Irish coaching staff wanted them to return next season, and — just as important — how it would be in their best interest to do so.

Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman has more, including quotes from Kelly on the recruiting trips the Irish head coach — and a caravan including assistant coaches and athletic director Jack Swarbrick — took to both Stanley and Day’s homes.

“I’ve had great success keeping Michael Floyd here, keeping Tyler Eifert here, keeping Manti Te’o here and then last year I was disappointed about one of our players not staying,” Kelly told Fox Sports. “I was not going to leave it up to fate anymore that somebody would understand from my perspective that you should stay for these reasons. I was gonna get on the road and make sure we did this.”

For Stanley, that meant bringing Harry Hiestand to Las Vegas and connecting the junior offensive tackle with Dallas Cowboys All-Pro rookie Zack Martin. It also meant bringing an academic advisor along to help better understand the timing of things like OTAs and an academic plan that’ll have him ready for graduation after next season.

For Day, it meant a visit from Mike Elston and Paul Longo. It also meant an apples to apples comparison with former Pitt star Aaron Donald, who Irish fans have already deemed the optimal prototype for the undersized defensive tackle.

“Our strength coach was with us on that one because we wanted to look at some numbers from the Combine that we wanted to make him aware of,” said Kelly. “We felt like we wanted to get him into (former Pitt All-American) Aaron Donald’s numbers. It was, ‘Right now let’s say four teams really like you. If you start hitting these physical numbers, we think 20 teams are gonna really like you, and that’s the net benefit for you.'”

More important than any sales pitch was another option Notre Dame was offering. An insurance policy the university would pay for that would cover any loss of value, a commitment that Swarbrick himself gave to both players.

At a school that’s promoting a 40-year decision, adding success stories like Stanley and Day is crucial to the recruiting message to other elite prospects hoping to have the chance to play at the next level. Adding an All-American like Stanley to the “Notre Dame graduate” list continues to separate the Irish from other programs that look more like football factories.

On the field, bringing back this duo is just as critical. After seeing holes in the depth chart after early departures ripped some key building blocks off the 2014 roster, hitting the road and protecting his own roster is just as key to building the 2015 team as finishing the recruiting class strong.

Do yourself a favor and read Feldman’s complete story here.

Keivarae Russell gives update on off-field progress

Notre Dame at USC
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If all goes according to plan, cornerback Keivarae Russell will return to Notre Dame for summer school this June. After being one of four players suspended for the entire 2014 season, Russell is eligible to return to campus after two semesters.  But even though he’s been away from campus, he’s hardly been hiding out.

Russell has used social media to give frequent updates to his off-field work, usually consisting of workout videos and self-motivational postings. The workout videos remind you that Notre Dame lost a freakish athlete who’ll be one of the top cornerbacks in the country when he returns.

The motivational posts remind you that while Russell’s academic mistake cost him two semesters at Notre Dame, he’s still every bit the unique and thoughtful student-athlete you came to know and appreciate.

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Over the weekend, Russell gave his most recent update, which included an interesting update from an academic perspective. Russell will begin taking classes at another college, with the dean of the Mendoza College of Business accepting some of those credits, depending on a few factors.

This from Russell’s Facebook page:

Working 12 hours a week in real estate and property management, also taking roughly 30 quarter credits at a smaller school this spring that will count towards my degree at Notre Dame if I meet all the parameters from my dean at ND and I do well in the courses, also training 5 and at times 6 days a week with some of the best trainers in Washington. You can’t tell me I ain’t on a mission this “offseason” lol still can’t wait to go back to my team in JUNE though!! ‪#‎GoIrish‬ ‪#‎GRIND‬ ‪#‎OutworkTheNextMan‬

Russell’s time away from South Bend is far from a year off from school and football. And if he’s able to have credits transfer (this is far from unusual, I myself had college credits transfer at Notre Dame), then it’ll likely help him graduate on time and prepare for the NFL Draft after next season, even if he’ll technically have another year of eligibility remaining.

With Russell and Ishaq Williams‘ return expected, combined with the return of Sheldon Day and Ronnie Stanley (more on that in a bit), 2015 is working out to be one of Brian Kelly’s most talented football teams.

Mailbag: So many questions, so little time

HO
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I’ve got to hand it to you guys for this batch of questions. Some really good ones. I don’t think I got to all of them, though this took me a few hours to blow through. (Feel free to ask again next time if I missed it.)

Happy weekend.

 

mtflsmitty: What’s your assessment of the parity (or lack thereof) among the Power 5 conferences heading into 2015?

There’s nothing that’s a bigger offseason story than the great reshuffling. Ohio State’s victory, paired with some high-profile struggles by SEC West teams — not to mention the Big Ten’s bowl season — really turns the tables of perception.

I wrote about it a bit already, but there’s no more assumption of greatness for the SEC. All that talk of two teams in the playoff? It’s tough to give anybody  the benefit of the doubt now, especially after seeing the eggs laid by teams we thought elite — like Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

That all bodes very well for Notre Dame. Because with the schedule the Irish are playing, there’s little doubt that if they win, they’ll get respect for those victories.

 

indyirish91: Any talk about BK’s coaching staff? Are we gaining or losing anyone? I still would like to see Jeff Quinn added to the staff.

I find it hard to think there’s going to be any changes, especially with all the assistants out recruiting and working hard. And while many have focused on Jeff Quinn and his connection with Kelly, do you get rid of Harry Hiestand or Mike Denbrock for him? That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

In many ways the bowl victory was just as important for the continuity of the coaching staff as it was for the team’s momentum into the offseason. Those guys badly needed a win — and doing so against a top SEC program certainly helped everybody sleep a little better at night.

Would I be shocked if something happened after Signing Day? No. But anything I’d write here would be unsubstantiated speculation, and that doesn’t do anybody any good.

 

andy44teg: Is ND in the mix for any 5th Year Seniors looking to transfer like a Cody Riggs??

Tom Loy over at Irish 247 said the staff was kicking the tires on a fifth-year transfer, but he didn’t speculate as to who it was. Some smoke began circling Cal’s Brennan Scarlett, but the defensive end has struggled with injuries after being a promising recruit.

With roster numbers being what they are, I think Kelly and his staff will make moves after they see who they finish the recruiting class with and how they handle their own fifth-years.

 

bernhtp: Notre Dame appears to be on a trajectory to have well over 85 scholarships this spring allocated to returning players, LOI/EE recruits, and fifth-year invites. If the numbers don’t come down to 85 by fall camp via normal attrition (transfers, medical hardships, academic fallout), Notre Dame would need to essentially cut players (likely from the fifth-year pool, e.g., Jarrett Grace if doesn’t progress sufficiently). While not SEC-type oversigning, it is still not traditional ND. What is your perspective?

This seems to be a topic we just start to discuss… and then massive attrition hits. As Bern alludes to, there’s a numbers crunch and some difficult decisions yet to be made. Last year, we saw those solved by mass exodus to the NFL Draft. This year, it looks like the Irish got lucky, with everybody coming back.

That said, I don’t think there’s any reason to be concerned about going over the 85-man limit, because there are so many things that still need to play out. Medical hardships are a big one — guys like Nicky Baratti, Jarrett Grace, Conor Hanratty (the last two also count as fifth-year questions).

Nobody is getting their scholarship ripped out of their hands and put out to pasture. But would I be surprised if there are a few transfers that take place between now and next summer? Not at all. Until then, let’s hold off on the alarm bells. This type of problem is one that comes with building proper depth on your roster.

 

c4evr: If safety is one of the thinnest positions on the roster, as I look at incoming recruits, why is it so hard to bring in studs at that position? There are currently 3 kids all ranked as 3 star players for the safety position – that seems a little out if balance and underwhelming. Why is that?

I’m pretty slow to classify these guys as underwhelming, if only because I don’t put a lot of stock in the star-rankings. Drue Tranquill was a guy nobody wanted. He played more snaps than anybody. I tend to think we’ll start liking Nicco Fertitta and Mykelti Williams, and a sleeper like Ashton While. And while some wonder about Prentice McKinney making it to campus, he’s a guy the staff really likes, and has for a long time.

Take a look at Urban Meyer’s Ohio State defense. While a few of those guys are high-profile recruits, more than a few were three-star recruits, too. The Irish staff knows they need to recruit the position and add some depth there. New offers are going out, relationships are being built. At this time last year we didn’t know who Daniel Cage or Pete Mokwuah were.

It’s definitely a position of need. But it doesn’t matter how long you’ve had them committed as long as they send in the fax that first Wednesday in February.

 

Ted Wheeler: Any word or guesses on possible position changes? Devin Butler to FS? James Onwualu back to blocking WR? There always seem to be a few.

It’s something I’m definitely keeping an eye on. But I don’t see Onwualu moving back to offense. Especially after the progress he made at linebacker — not to mention the depth chart backlog at receiver.

Butler to free safety? Will that stop him from getting beat over the top? People have ID’d guys like Justin Brent as an option to move, just because of his physicality and size. I’m not buying the move of a guy like C.J. Prosise to running back, just because he was such a weapon in the slot.

If Brian Kelly deserves the benefit of the doubt anywhere, it’s on position switches. He’s been pretty impressive when it comes to that, and I’m sure there’ll be a few rabbits up his sleeve soon, with safety and running back looking like two areas where things are pretty thin.

 

finishthefight1986: The Irish always seem to have an eventful offseason. What are you looking forward to the most for 2015? Any untoward events facing our Irish you hope to avoid 2015?

All of them? I could go for a scandal-free offseason if that’s okay with everybody else.

 

joewyoming: Has the stance of the Irish athletic department been swayed by watching what happened to the Big 12 with regard to the playoff? Would a one-loss Irish team ever have a chance for inclusion in the playoff in the absence of a conference championship game?

Both Kelly and Jack Swarbrick have mentioned this, and it’s a really good question. For the record, I don’t think an 11-1 Notre Dame team would’ve been held out of the playoff. (Not that it matters, or that we could prove it.)

Here’s what Swarbrick told Chris Goff of the Journal Gazette:

“The bottom line for Notre Dame is that while tiebreaker criteria can be expected to work against us in some years, that is not a given,” Swarbrick said. “We have the opportunity to avoid the application of those criteria, and one or more upsets in championship games may create opportunities for other teams, including Notre Dame, who might not have otherwise been selected.”

 

subalum: Keith, northern football programs seem to be dominant in every division except FBS. Examples being: Wisconsin whitewater, North Dakota State, Montana , Patriots, Packers etc. Why do northern teams only win FBS championships once every 12 or so years (OSU)? Is the answer as simple as a lack of a true playoff that takes southern teams to northern climates creating more of a level playing field? Or is it more complex than that? What are your thoughts?

Throw out the NFL teams and I think you might be onto something, especially at the FCS and lower levels. But the biggest part of that in my opinion? A lack of D-I programs in Northern States.

There is no D-I football in North or South Dakota. There’s only the Gophers in Minnesota and the Badgers in Wisconsin. There are a lot of good football players in those states, and that’s what fills the rosters of the teams that continue to make noise at the lower levels.

While I think Montana has the Western states to pull from, they all have the ability to offer and target some kids that get missed, as opposed to the recruits that tend to get seen in more talent-rich states.

Outside of geographical hubs like California, Texas and Florida, I can’t say I’m a big believer in blanket statements that claim football players are better in State X, Y or Z because of the weather. How do you explain that the Big Ten is now a premier basketball conference?

Again, I’m no Malcolm Gladwell, I’m just a guy who watches too much Notre Dame football and too many movies and TV shows. But that’s my take.

 

nateprez4irish: Who are your early leaders for captains next year?

Great question. I’m going with Joe Schmidt, Sheldon Day, Ronnie Stanley and Everett Golson. But there is a lot of leadership on this team and obviously if Golson leaves that changes everything.

 

bowser75: I worry about the chemistry of the team. Guys coming back from suspension, qb’s competing for no. 1, players picking sides on the qb debate, player x thinking he should get more reps than player z, etc., etc… These are the things that keep me awake at night. Well, that and black holes, nuclear war, and circus clowns.

Can’t help you with the black holes and circus clowns, but the football stuff should subside. Welcome to life inside a competitive football program. As we learned in the victory over LSU, there’s the perception we (I’ll include media in this) as fans have and the thought process inside the building.

To me, all those worries are what makes this program healthy. And a big reason why I’m super excited about 2015.

 

cbhoov144: Not sure if it’s been discussed here already, but if you haven’t seen it yet, ESPN has a nice 30 for 30 short about Reggie Ho.

This was pretty awesome. Very nicely done:

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